Message from the Vice-President Academic

“The prairie is one of those plainly visible things that you can’t photograph. No camera lens can take in a big enough piece of it. The prairie landscape embraces the whole of the sky. Any undistorted image is too flat to represent the impression of immersion that is central to being on the prairie. The experience is a kind of baptism.”
― Paul Gruchow, Journal of a Prairie Year

“In a way nobody sees a flower really, it is so small, we haven’t the time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”
― Georgia O’Keeffe

Prairie Crocus on Campbell Hill, Calgary April 24, 2021

Prairie Crocus on Campbell Hill, Calgary April 24, 2021

For the last few months, as the winter never seemed willing to let go of its hold and the updates about COVID brought worse news, I kept my spirits up by gardening. The dining room has been transformed into a garden nursery, with re-used plastic pots and yogurt containers (holes in the bottom for drainage) presided over by several office lamps with grow bulbs. Bean seeds emerged first from the damp soil, stem bent over folded leaves as if bowed in prayer. Marigolds popped up quickly, sometimes still clutching their grass-like seed between miniature leaves. The dining room soon became overrun with plants and containers, and my husband helped me build a mini-greenhouse in the garage – all made from found materials: Styrofoam packaging for insulation, coffee and chip bags turned inside out to reflect as much light as possible, a used curtain to retain heat.

Outside I did my daily rounds, peeking into the corners of the gardens to see if there were signs that the perennials made it through the winter. Moving here from Ontario, it took me some time to adjust my gardening to the semi-arid conditions, the very short growing season, wild temperature fluctuations, and violent rain and hail storms that could threaten my ripening plants with no notice. As I built hoops from old tent poles so I could hastily cover my plants with a used fly as the hail beat down, I came to believe that gardening is Calgary in more a contact sport than a tame hobby. More than once my carefully tended tomatoes or peppers that were just ripening were slashed into pieces by the hail.

Yet I persist in gardening every year. Why?

As Georgia O’Keeffe says, “to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” Watching for shoots to emerge from under the snow, lifting mulch away to find ladybugs, waiting for the barely perceptible green of new tree buds – these take time and attentiveness and help me reflect, slow down, savour what is around me. Marvel in the gift of renewal and life. And greet my friends after a long winter of dormancy.

When I sift the new compost from the winter’s kitchen leavings onto the garden beds I am returning nutrients to the earth, grateful for the good food that has kept me well. I am offering encouragement and growth to the plants in hope that the rich hummus will generate berries, leafy greens, and herbs, while offering shelter and food for the creatures that visit the garden.

When I see the prairie crocus thriving in the windswept, brittle grasses of the spring, I am reminded that we all need periods of dormancy. The winter is necessary to give the seeds and rhizomes and animals time to slow down. Time to rest. Pause. Stop moving.

So, as you, students, faculty, staff, come to the end of your labours this term – as you write your last exam, grade that stack of papers, sign off on the fiscal year end – I hope you take the time to slow down. Pause. Reflect. Find a place of dormancy. Take a breath.

“Like to have a friend takes time,” may you pause and savour the growing things.

Tara Hyland-Russell
Vice-President Academic
St. Mary’s University